46 pages 1 hour read

Mary Rand Hess, Kwame Alexander


Fiction | Novel/Book in Verse | YA | Published in 2018

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Summary and Study Guide


Swing, published in 2018, is cowritten by Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess. This young adult novel follows the friendship of high school juniors Noah and Walt “Swing” Jones as they pursue their respective passions and navigate the challenges associated with achieving their goals. Walt, determined to earn a place on the high school baseball team despite being cut each year prior, lives life to the full by spreading his love of jazz and his “hug life” philosophy with everyone in his path. Noah struggles to navigate his romantic feelings for their lifelong mutual friend, Sam, while keeping his love—and practice—of writing and visual art a secret.

A novel in verse, Swing builds upon its jazz motif by utilizing the building blocks of poetry—including rhythm, repetition, sound, and compression—in a way that echoes the lyrical rhythms of jazz itself. The book includes original art by Mary Rand Hess, presented as the art created by the novel’s main character, Noah.

On their collaboration process, the two authors note the following:

We […] share a passion for telling layered stories that use art, music, poems, texts, lyrics, and various media to reveal the plot (with lots of humor and some drama mixed in) that we hope, in the end, entertain, empower, and create conversation about what’s going on in our world today (“Q&A With Kwame Alexander and Mary Rand Hess.” Diverse Books, 2018).

Alexander is the author of 39 books, many New York Times bestsellers, which range from young adult novels and children’s books to poetry collections and writers’ guides. He has received numerous accolades, including a Newbery Honor, a Caldecott Medal, the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, the Coretta Scott King Author Honor, the 2017 Inaugural Pat Conroy Legacy Award, and a National Book Award nomination. Hess describes herself as a “poet, playwright, screenwriter, digital series writer, composer [and] mixed-media artist” (“Something About Mary.” Mary Rand Hess). In addition to authoring children’s books, Hess has written a screenplay for Disney+ and episodes of a children’s series called WordPlay. The 2017 young adult novel and New York Times Best Seller Solo was also a collaboration between Alexander and Hess.

This guide references the 2018 hardcover by Clarion Books.

Content Warning: The novel and the guide include incidents of violence, death, police brutality, and systemic racism.

Plot Summary

Noah and Walt are lifelong friends who have spent years attempting to earn a place on the high school baseball team. Noah, convinced neither has talent, decides to give up, but Walt remains determined. He proclaims he will now go by the name “Swing”—an homage to his love of jazz music, which Noah does not share.

Noah has a crush on their friend Sam, who is dating Cruz, the star of the baseball team. Walt urges Noah to confess his true feelings to Sam, but Noah cannot garner the courage. The two meet Walt/Swing’s cousin Floyd for advice. Floyd, the producer of the Woohoo Woman podcast, is regarded by Walt/Swing as an unending font of knowledge as far as relationships are concerned. Meanwhile, over the past weeks, American flags have been appearing all over town. No one knows who has been displaying them or the intended message behind their display.

While Walt/Swing spends his days practicing at the local batting cage, Noah spends time with Sam, accompanying her to everything from Cruz’s baseball scrimmages to shopping for a prom dress. Noah’s parents prepare for a business trip to Barcelona, presenting him with his grandmother’s old truck. When Noah realizes he has missed his mother’s birthday, Walt/Swing and Sam accompany him to a thrift store in search of a gift. There Walt/Swing meets Divya—a thrift store employee who shares his love of jazz—and falls in love immediately. Noah buys a handbag for his mother. Later, he discovers five love letters from a man named Corinthian to a woman named Annemarie hidden inside the purse. Noah hopes the letters can provide the inspiration he needs to confess his true feelings to Sam.

While his parents are gone, Walt/Swing stays with Noah. He is adamant that they throw a party to earn a “cool” status amongst their peers. He agrees that Corinthian’s letters are moving and continues to impress upon Noah the magic of jazz. Noah, inspired by both the music and the letters, makes a piece of artwork in which he borrows words from one of the letters. Unbeknownst to Noah, Walt/Swing gives the artwork to Sam, indicating that it is from a secret admirer. Noah is initially angry at Walt/Swing, but when it becomes clear that Sam is moved by the letter, he pens increasing numbers of them, eager to shift his relationship with Sam into romantic territory. Meanwhile, a relationship develops between Walt/Swing and Divya.

The day of the party arrives and a jealous Cruz claims authorship of the love letters. Noah counters him, providing proof in the form of a new piece of artwork he has authored. The party ends when a member of the baseball team jumps from the house’s balcony and is injured.

In the days that follow, both Noah and Walt/Swing make positive steps. A romantic relationship develops between Sam and Noah. Walt/Swing not only welcomes the return of his older brother, Moses “Mo” from military service in Afghanistan but also earns a spot on the baseball team as a substitute for the player who was injured at the party. When Noah reveals to Sam that Walt/Swing was responsible for giving her the initial piece of artwork, Sam pulls away. Distance and an air of awkwardness develops between her and Noah. Meanwhile, American flags continue to appear around town. In time, it appears that Sam has rekindled her relationship with Cruz.

Noah’s parents return and he spends increasing amounts of time alone: Walt/Swing spends more time with Divya, and Sam makes excuses as to why she cannot spend time with Noah. Walt/Swing enjoys his time on the baseball team despite his lackluster performance. He attends prom with Divya as his date while Sam is accompanied by Cruz. Noah loans his truck to Walt/Swing for the big night but is woken at 3:00 am when Walt phones to say that the truck has broken down.

Noah takes his parents’ car to pick up Walt/Swing. As they pass by a baseball field, Walt spots Mo, surrounded by American flags and wielding a baseball bat. Walt/Swing runs toward Mo, but several police officers have already arrived. Certain that Mo is dangerous and intends to use the baseball bat for harm, the officers fire shots at Mo. Walt/Swing tries to get Mo out of the line of fire and is shot himself. At the hospital, Noah shares a tearful moment with Walt/Swing, who makes Noah promise to live life to the fullest. Walt/Swing dies.